Usually, home run hitters, in either softball or baseball, are of the big and burly variety. They are the hulking creatures who intimidate all pitchers, like Babe Ruth, Mark McGwire or Frank Thomas.
Currently, the leader in softball home runs in all of New Jersey is a diminutive and demure high school junior who stands all of 5-foot-4, barely tops 100 pounds on the scale and wouldn’t be able to intimidate a kindergartner.
“I even don’t believe it,” said McNair Academic junior catcher Sarah Beckner. “I’m such a tiny person. How can a little old girl from the city be able to lead the entire state?”
But it’s true. Beckner has hit an astounding 12 home runs this season, all of which are legitimate shots. It’s the highest total by a Hudson County softball player in more than 25 years.
“When I was told I was No. 1 in the state, I was amazed,” said Beckner, who hit two homers in a game twice last week against Marist and Ferris. “It’s good to know all the hard work had paid off.”
Beckner said that she worked out a lot in the offseason to get ready for this year.
“I wanted to be the best player I could, so I lifted a lot of weights, did a lot of curls, even did bench presses,” Beckner said. “Some of the guys make fun of me because I lift more than they can.”
Frankly, those guys shouldn’t be poking fun, because Beckner has proven there’s a lot of strength and power coming out of her little frame.
“No one expects it from me, because I am such a tiny person,” Beckner said. “I didn’t even realize it was happening. I was shocked when the first couple started flying out. I don’t know how that happens.”
McNair Academic veteran head coach Vahon McCullers is equally mystified.
“I’m tremendously surprised,” McCullers said. “She’s hitting the ball every time up. There are no gimmies [cheap hits]. Everything is solid. What she did in the offseason is amazing. She just came in this season with a whole different demeanor. She came back this year and took charge. It was her team. The other kids all listen to her like she’s Mother Hen. She could be my commandant if we went to war. She changed the whole outlook of the entire team.”
Beckner said that since the Cougars don’t have any seniors on the roster, it was her job as a two-year veteran and co-captain to take command.
“I don’t want to have anyone out of place,” Beckner said. “I want everyone to come together as a team. We have a couple of new people on the team this year, so I wanted them to feel welcome.”
Beckner is not only hitting homers. She has her share of doubles and triples as well, ranking second in New Jersey in extra base hits with 27.
In fact, she had three triples and four RBI in a win Tuesday against St. Anthony, giving her nine hits in her last 12 at-bats.
For her efforts, Beckner has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
“She’s like a bulldog out there,” said McCullers, who has been the head softball coach at McNair Academic for the last 24 years. “In all my years, she’s the best player I’ve ever had. You can feel the power coming off her bat when she swings. She takes pitches that are outside and drills them the other way. She has just taken it all to another level this year.”
McCullers said that Beckner has become a better defensive player as well.
“No one challenges her arm back there,” McCullers said. “Even the bigger teams know she can throw. She’s changed the whole atmosphere of her team with her defense.”
Incredibly, Beckner was never a catcher before high school.
“I was more of a middle infielder and I loved to play the outfield,” Beckner said. “When I was a freshman, our catcher hurt her ankle and I told Coach that I used to catch a little. I just kind of stuck there. I do like it now and I take a lot of pride in it.”
McCullers loves Beckner’s demeanor.
“She always says to me every day, ‘Hi Coach, how’s your day?’” McCullers said. “She’s such a good kid that she motivates me. I want to be there at practices and at games because of her. I talk about her all the time to everyone. She does nothing but good things and the rest of the team all feeds off her. She even runs the practices sometimes. I tell her what I want done, she tells the team and they all follow suit.”
Beckner knows that her improvement has simply skyrocketed.
“I feel like I’m such a completely different player now,” Beckner said. “I think I’m taking the game more seriously. I think that’s all part of what I’m doing.”
Beckner believes she is getting help from a higher source.
Four years ago, Beckner’s older sister, Victoria, died after a courageous battle with leukemia. The McNair Academic softball program honors the memory of Victoria with the annual Victoria Beckner Memorial Classic that was played two weeks ago against University Charter at College Little League Field in Jersey City, near the Beckner home.
“She’s always been my inspiration to be a great player,” Sarah said of her sister, who was also a fine softball player before she fell ill. “I’m always trying to do something that would impress her. I know she’d be proud of me now.”
“I really think there’s something to that,” McCullers said. “Maybe Sarah’s playing with her sister on her shoulder.”
Whatever it is, Sarah Beckner is living the life these days.
“It has been fun and I am really surprised,” Sarah Beckner said.
So is everyone else, once they take a look at the fiery little catcher.
“What can I say?” Beckner said. “I can’t believe it either.” – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.